Great strides, great artists, great desires, great complexity—this week’s books are all about these kinds of greats. They also all showcase exceptional writing and take us far and wide—from elective politics to abstract art, from Coney Island to California—to explore great ideas. How does the world change politically? How is a woman artist’s life entwined with her art in a way that a male artist’s life might not be? How do we make sense of our lives and our longings while our mortality looms? How do we survive in spite of tremendous pain and challenges? What does it mean to survive? These books illuminate questions like these and help us grapple with and make sense of this always challenging, always beautiful, great huge world of ours.
- Breakthrough by Nancy L. Cohen
Women’s political leadership—perhaps leading to our first woman president in the United States this year—didn’t happen by accident. Women have come together, especially in the last two decades, to create a new network to win elections and share power. While the results are mixed—misogyny doesn’t die easily, among other issues—a huge goal will be realized this year if Hillary is elected. This book is a fascinating and gripping story of how we got here and the smart women who have made it happen. Powerfully written.
- Restless Ambition by Cathy Curtis
Allison Wright, Managing Editor over at VQR, was kind enough to invite me to guest curate her newsletter, “I Don’t Hate It”. (You can subscribe here.) I wrote this: “I’ve been thinking about women making art and how lucky I am to have been moved and changed by that art and how it’s still too fucking hard for women to be artists and what a goddamned outrage that is. I have been surrounding myself with the work of visual artists and keep coming back to Grace Hartigan’s paintings. Her beautiful and powerful medleys of abstract and figurative forms. I am writing under her aegis somehow. She kneads out the last bits of my faith in my own art that I have left for this year. I can’t wait to read the new biography of her, Restless Ambition, over the holidays. This review had me breathless. Restless ambition indeed. I met Grace once at a show at Louie’s Bookstore in Baltimore, where for a time in my youth I would hangout and read and think of my life and what it would be like and if I might write. A student of hers was having a show there and my date pointed Grace out to me. This was in the late eighties and she was in her late sixties. ‘She’s fucked everyone,’ the guy I was with told me. Not a word about her paintings. I am here, Grace, and I have fucked everyone too, though not that guy who didn’t mention your work, because fuck that, not him. Thanks for the inspiration, Grace, in every way.” (P.S. I’ve read the book now, and it’s fantastic. Don’t miss it.)
- Sabbath’s Theatre by Phillip Roth
One of the greatest novels I’ve ever read. Some of my feminist friends are anti-Roth because THERE ARE SO MANY MISOGINYSTIC CHARACTERS in his work. But THERE ARE SO MANY MISOGINYSTIC CHARACTERS in life, too. I wouldn’t urge a steady diet of Roth, nor would I suggest one teach human beings how to relate to one another using his novels as the core curriculum, but I became a kinder, bigger-hearted person reading this novel as a twentysomething. I became less weird about my own sexual desires and their context. I came to understand longing differently. I became more human reading this, and I’m not sure you can say more than that to recommend a novel. And, after many re-readings, my feminism is still intact.
- The Border of Paradise by Esmé Weijun Wang
The characters in this novel are so alive, so real, and so vivid—I truly didn’t want this book to end. I came to love the people here quite quickly. The writing is mesmerizing and the story so real, so true, so full of heart that it broke mine in a kerjillion different ways. This is a dazzling, exquisite debut novel. A lesser writer wouldn’t have been able to pull off the kaleidoscope of perspectives that bring this complex story to life, but Wang is a master. Pre-order now. Sub-motherfucking-lime.
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